Difference Between Evangelicals and Catholics

by Alex Sharp, studioD

Although both Catholicism and Evangelicalism are Christian faiths, they have distinct differences. The Catholic faith has a distinctly traditional church-centered history. The Evangelical faith is based on Protestant theology, and members of the different Evangelical movements have a variety of options in how they worship God. These lead to differences in traditions, practices and views of salvation.

A Short History of Church Changes

Vatican, Rome, Italy

The Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Church are both rooted in early Christian churches. They separated into two different branches in the 11th century, but to outsiders the two churches appear remarkably similar in doctrine, practice and traditions. The Roman Catholic Church achieved European exclusivity until the 16th century Reformation movement that introduced Protestant sects. King Henry VIII's separation from the Catholic Church also opened England to Protestant worship. Evangelical churches are branches of the Protestant churches started during the Reformation.

Extensions of God's Authority

Evangelicals believe the Bible is the authoritative 'Word of God.'

Both Catholics and Evangelicals accept God as their primary authority. For Catholics, the church is the primary extension of God's authority because Jesus founded the Christian church through St. Peter. For Catholics, the Bible supports what the church teaches. For Evangelicals, the Bible is the primary extension of God's authority because it affirms God's wishes and is the "Word of God." One network of Evangelical churches is the the Fellowship of Independent Reformed Evangelicals. FIRE states that churches will provide "many opportunities to sharpen our understanding of these deep truths of the Bible."

Church Hierarchy

Pope Benedict XVI

The Catholic Church has strict, defined hierarchy. The church is governed by the pope, who is sometimes known as the vicar of Christ to Catholics and the bishop of Rome to non-Catholics, and authority is delegated through a patriarchal line of archbishops, cardinals, and priests. Evangelical churches have a less defined authority. The churches are affiliated with larger associations, such as the Evangelical Association of Reformed and Congregational Christian Churches or the Evangelical Covenant Church association. Churches are run by councils and pastors, but Evangelical churches encourage a personal relationship to God that allows for various levels of ministry among lay people.

Salvation Differences

Jesus' crucifixion is crucial to Christian salvation.

One of the most striking differences between Evangelicals and Catholics is the understanding of salvation. Both faiths recognize that salvation begins with the acceptance of Jesus Christ. Evangelicals believe in justification by faith, so accepting and having faith in Jesus is all that is necessary to be saved. This belief is founded in John 14:6. The Catholic church believes that while the possibility of salvation is given through faith, actual salvation is maintained through church rights and personal acts. The belief that personal acts contribute to salvation is rooted in 1 Corinthians 13:3.

Biblical Differences

The Catholic Bible has books that Evangelical Bibles do not include.

Both the Evangelical and The Catholic churches use different translations of the Bible based on the Latin Vulgate. The Catholic Bible retains older elements, such as the Apocrypha, of the Vulgate that are not found in Evangelical bibles. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops explains one of the Biblical differences, the Book of Sirach: "Though not included in the Hebrew Bible after the first century A.D., nor accepted by Protestants, the Book of Sirach has always been recognized by the Catholic Church as divinely inspired and canonical." The Book of Sirach is also known as Ecclesiasticus.

Catholic Sacraments

Reconciliation, the Penance sacrament, begins in a Catholic confessional

The Catholic Church has seven sacraments: baptism, confirmation, communion (eucharist), penance, marriage, ordination (becoming a priest) and last rites (also known as healing or anointing the sick). American Catholic.org explains that the sacraments are, "special occasions for experiencing God's saving presence." The sacraments are part of Catholic traditions and identification. Praying the rosary, one of the most distinctive acts of a Catholic, is part of the penance sacrament.

Evangelical Sacraments

Communion may be casual and self-obtained in an Evangelical church.

Evangelical churches vary on the reasoning for sacraments, but Evangelicals generally focus on baptism and communion. The Evangelical Free Church of America states, "The Lord Jesus mandated two ordinances, baptism and the Lord’s Supper... these ordinances confirm and nourish the believer." Because of the variety in Evangelical church associations, some churches endorse more sacraments. Oceanside, California's Church of the Advent has an Episcopalian faith that recognizes all seven Catholic sacraments, but has an Evangelical approach, saying, "We are intent on hearing God through his written Word (Holy Scripture); the word preached and even through fellowship with our brothers and sisters in the Lord."

Resources

  • "Christianity: The First Three Thousand Years": Diarmaid MacCulloch; 2010

About the Author

Alex Sharp has been teaching since 1996 and freelance writing online since 2008. She is a featured writer on ebooks for Audiobooks and other websites and has published in "TableAus," the Australian Mensa magazine. Alex holds a Bachelor of Arts in English and education from the University of Michigan.

Photo Credits

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